Hoffman revels in dream start as Masters leader embraces Augusta challenge

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It was a start that defied belief but surprise Masters leader Charley Hoffman is relishing the challenge as he looks to fend off the star-studded field.

All eyes were on Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy but unheralded American Hoffman upstaged the quartet to earn a four-stroke lead after the opening round on Thursday.

In unrelenting and challenging gusty conditions at Augusta National, Hoffman withstood mother nature to card a sensational seven-under-par 65 as world number one Johnson withdrew before teeing off and Spieth, Day and McIlroy failed to break par.

Hoffman - who has four PGA Tour titles to his name but is without victory since the Texas Open in April last year - was almost flawless, holing nine birdies and dropping just two shots amid high winds.

And it was a performance that not even the 40-year-old overnight leader saw coming in Georgia, with countryman William McGirt his nearest challenger at three under.

"For lack of any better words, it was a dream," Hoffman told reporters. "You hit the shots that you're sort of looking at, and then the hardest part is to convert the putts and I was able to do that. I got some good numbers coming down the stretch and I was able to do that.

"A few weeks back, I sort of sat back on a week off and asked some people what I needed to do better, and asked myself what I needed to do better, and I just needed to believe a little bit more. 

"I think I'm just starting to believe.  This game's tough and I'm starting to believe and obviously seeing putts go in and seeing shots where you want them to go helps the belief process a little bit."

When asked what was a realistic target before teeing off at the major, Hoffman said: "Like even par. It's one of those rounds where you could shoot your way out of the golf tournament pretty quick.

"And obviously I was just trying to make pars, and while I was trying to make pars, I put myself in position to be able to make birdies. I was able to convert those birdies and turn it into a fantastic round."

While upstaging golf's biggest names, Hoffman's standing atop the leaderboard is not all that surprising given his record at Augusta.

Hoffman was in the mix at the Masters in 2015, occupying a place in the top three for 54 holes before finishing ninth behind Spieth.

"I'm going to feed off that the rest of the week. You just sort go with it.  There wasn't, I wouldn't say, a ton of pressure today," Hoffman added as he reflected on his performance two years ago.

"You're just trying to make ends meet really.  Just want to start hitting the fairways so you can hit the green and have the ability to make the putt.

"Obviously going to sleep on the lead at a major championship here at Augusta National is not going to be the easiest thing.  I look forward to it, and I look forward to the challenge the next three days."